- GS-2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.
- GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
AUKUS and India
Context: A new trilateral security partnership called AUKUS (Australia-U.K.-U.S.) has been formed recently.
- US President stated its aim is to “update and enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st century just as we did in the 20th century: together.”
What are the terms of the grouping?
- The summit announcement specifically referenced its intent for AUKUS to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific in the long term.
- As expected, it drew a sharp response from China, whose territorial ambitions across the Indo-Pacific is one of the key factor behind the formation of this group.
- Beijing stated that AUKUS will “undermine” regional peace and “intensify” an arms race in the region.
- The security partnership also includes a proposal whereby the U.S. and the U.K. will transfer technology to build a fleet of nuclear-powered (not nuclear-armed) submarines for Australia within 18 months.
- With this submarine deal, Australia cancelled a $90-billion conventional submarine purchase order placed with France.
Will AUKUS be a game changer?
The short answer is that it is unlikely, and the reasons are several.
- First, the U.S. already has a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific, especially in a grouping that includes Australia, India, and Japan — the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad.
- QUAD involves joint military presence, and a wide array of war games and more in the region.
- Similarly, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are members of Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing alliance, which also has regional security implications.
- It is unclear what additional signalling could be achieved through the new trilateral security arrangement that does not fall within the ambit of the Quad, or ASEAN.
- This assessment is consistent with India’s response to the creation of AUKUS, which saw Indian Foreign Secretary say, “From our perspective, this is neither relevant to the Quad nor will it have any impact on its functioning.”
- Secondly, AUKUS will not likely deter Beijing’s strategic calculus across the region, particularly relating to its maritime ambitions and territorial expansionism.
- The one element of AUKUS that has potential to cause a recalibration of China’s plans in this realm is the nuclear-powered submarines.
- The countries that have such submarines operational are the U.S. (68), Russia (29), China (12) the U.K. (11), France (8) and India (1).
- AUKUS facilitating the development of a nuclear fleet for Australia may alter the power balance in the Indio-Pacific. This will heighten China’s anxiety over its nuclear-powered submarine fleet which has potential of intensifying arms race in the region.
Does India stand to gain from this development?
- India may indeed derive secondary benefits from having three advanced nations with arguably the most sophisticated military know-how in the world coming together to support a free and open Indo-Pacific.
- Given the inroads that China has made in recent decades with its Belt and Road Initiative in India’s neighbourhood, fears over ‘encirclement’ of India by China may be partially mitigated by AUKUS.
- It would likely be well over a decade before the submarine construction plans in Adelaide come to fruition and Australia operationalises a nuclear-powered fleet.
- To what extent and in what direction the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific would have shifted by then remains to be seen. From New Delhi’s perspective, the business-as-usual approach is the best answer to such ambiguities: it implies that India will work with the transnational institutional arrangements in place, roping in like-minded nations into symbiotic partnerships, and calibrate future alliance plans to evolving security situations across one of the most complex strategic ecosystems in the world.
Connecting the dots: